Biden warns China will ‘eat our lunch’ if US fails to embrace new initiatives

Chinese president Xi Jinping tells Biden during two-hour phone call that ‘co-operation is the only choice’

US president Joe Biden  meeting with senators in the  White House  to discuss infrastructure plans. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times

US president Joe Biden meeting with senators in the White House to discuss infrastructure plans. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times


Joe Biden has warned that China will “eat our lunch” if the United States fails to embrace new technology and infrastructure initiatives, following a phone call with Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Speaking at the White House as he hosted a bipartisan group of senators to discuss infrastructure plans, the US president said he had spoken to his Chinese counterpart for “two straight hours” – the first phone call between the two men since Mr Biden’s inauguration three weeks ago.

Citing China’s “major new initiatives” on rail and auto technology, he said: “We don’t get moving, they’re going to eat our lunch.”

“They’re investing billions of dollars and dealing with a whole range of issues that relate to transportation, the environment, and a whole range of other things. So we just have to step up.” 

The relationship between Washington and Beijing promises to be one of the most important of Mr Biden’s presidency. The world’s two largest economies have been locked in a trade war since the Trump administration imposed tariffs, while increasingly belligerent actions by China in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait have worried the international community.

Mr Biden’s team has also expressed concern about China’s human rights records, particularly in Hong Kong, while secretary of state Antony Blinken has described Beijing’s actions towards the Uighur minority as genocide.

Climate change

In its official readout of the phone call between the two leaders, the White House said Mr Biden had “underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan”.

The two leaders also discussed Covid-19 – constantly dubbed the “Chinese virus” by Mr Biden’s predecessor – and climate change.

According to a Chinese summary of the call, Mr Xi told the US president that confrontation “will hurt both sides – co-operation is the only choice”. He said that matters relating to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang were “internal affairs related to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

The two leaders have had frequent contact in the past. In a recent CBS interview Mr Biden said he spent more time with Mr Xi than any world leader when he was vice-president.

“I know him pretty well. He’s very bright and he’s very tough and – I don’t mean it as a criticism, it’s just a reality – he doesn’t have a democratic...bone in his body.”